Whistler Family - The Plumber

Craftsmen of Aldermaston and Sherborne St John

The 19th Century Plumber

The work of the nineteenth century plumber is described in trade manuals:

Lead is one of the softest, heaviest, and most easily melted of metals. It is also the most malleable, and thus rendered of great use from the facility with which it can be worked.
The ore of lead is found chiefly in the south of Scotland and north of England, in Somersetshire and Derbyshire.
From the Latin word for lead, the person who works in lead is usually termed a plumber. The diversity of uses to which it is applied in the ordinary arts and manufactures of this country, is by far too great to admit even of enumeration. In order to prepare the metal for these various purposes, the pig, as the mass of lead after smelting is called, is reduced either by casting, rolling, or some other means.

The business of the Plumber consists in casting and working of lead, and using it in buildings. He furnishes us with a cistern for water, and with a sink for a kitchen; he covers the house with lead, and makes the gutters to carry away the water; he makes pipes of all sorts and sizes, and sometimes he casts leaden statues as ornaments for the garden. . . .
Every plumber who does any business of consequence, casts his sheet lead at home: which he does from the pigs. To perform which he provides a copper well fixed in masonry, and placed at one end of the casting shop, and near to the mould or casting table. . . .
In the country it is not unfrequent to find that the business of a plumber, glazier, and painter, is united in the same person; but the plumbing trade is of itself in London reckoned a very good one for one master. The health of the men is often injured by the fumes of the lead.
Journeymen earn about thirty shillings a week; and we recommend earnestly to lads brought up to either of the before-mentioned trades, that they cultivate cleanliness and strict sobriety, and that they never, on any account, eat their meals, or retire to rest at night, before they have well washed their hands and face.

The excerpts are from The Book of Trades; or, Circle of the Useful Arts, Third Edition, 1837, pp. 85–6 (in the Goldsmiths’-Kress library of economic literature microfilm set, no. 29843) and The Book of English Trades and Library of the Useful Arts, about 1831, a reissue of the 1824 edition, pp. 303–8 (in the Goldsmiths’-Kress microfilm set, no. 26175).

Illustration of a Plumber
The Book of Trades, or Library of the Useful Arts, Volume 1, 1806
(Google eBook online).

A reference source is the website:
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture ,
University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

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